Who could beat Rahm Emanuel in 2015?

May 29, 2013

It was just last week, right after the final announcement of the 50 CPS closings that protesters lined the sidewalks outside the meeting and chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go!”

It may have looked like a turning point—citizens actually expressing their rage at the mayor—but a quick peek inside the proceedings would have revealed a different kind of evidence. Aldermen, especially African-American aldermen in whose wards Emanuel’s closings will have a disproportionate and deleterious effect, meekly sought to save this or that school, bowing before the mayor’s ferocious power.

Is there any chance, really, that Emanuel will go? He doesn’t have the charm of a Harold Washington, or the common touch of a Richard Daley, but he has a war chest of about half a million right now, and a unparalleled track record for fundraising for himself and others. He also has the weight of incumbency: the devil we know over the one we don’t, and the ability to get tons of free air time just because.

There may be legitimate gripes against him—the school closings, of course, and the new proposed meter deal, and the lack of transparency, the utter lack of much-promised reform, the proposed DePaul stadium (!), the neutering of the city inspector, and the cronyism—but, er, a lot of folks think that’s par for Chicago. Some actually revel in this kind of political behavior because, at the end of the day, Chicago is not Detroit.

So for “Hey hey, ho ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go” to echo with any possibility, the issues in and of themselves are only important to a certain extent.

Besides his own decision to move on—which isn’t going to happen in 2015—the only thing that could eject Emanuel from City Hall is simply a stronger candidate.

And is there anyone at there who could do better than the last cache of characters, the Machine-fueled Gery Chico, the well-intentioned but ineffective Miguel del Valle, the embarrassing Carol Mosley Braun?

It’s important to remember that Emanuel won with 55 percent of the vote, that he actually did even better in the black wards with 59 percent, and that he swept the lakefront.

Who could make a dent in that kind of overwhelming support? I propose there are two, both well-known politicians, who could give Emanuel a fight.

The first, and the weaker of the two, is Rep. Luis Gutierrez. Gutierrez thought about running last time, and almost jumped in, but if he’d won—unlikely then—he’d have missed being a part of immigration reform in Congress, his signature issue for the last 20 years.

Like Emanuel, Gutierrez has long-standing ties to the African-American community. He was Harold Washington’s original tie-breaker in the City Council and has a long record of supporting progressive issues, especially in housing and employment. Like Emanuel, Gutierrez supports the rights of the LGBTQ community and has a long record, back to a time when giving that support as fully and passionately as he did actually had consequences. And like Emanuel, he is a dynamic and tireless campaigner.

Gutierrez would likely dent but not overwhelm Emanuel’s lakefront support, give him a run for his money in the African-American community, and win Latino support—the fastest growing population in the city—by wide margins.

There are drawbacks to Gutierrez, like his ability to raise the necessary funds. There’s also a question as to how many of those mealy-mouthed black aldermen might stick with Emanuel strictly out of fear.

But Gutierrez could be a formidable challenger.

My second proposed candidate, though, could win. And that’s Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinckle. Preckwinckle won her current post with two thirds of the vote and majorities across the city’s ethnic and racial majorities. It’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t beat Emanuel in the black wards, that her progressive positions on housing, wages, and guns—and her disagreement with with Emanuel on school closings (no surprise from a former teacher)—wouldn’t find support among Latinos. Perhaps more importantly, Preckwinckle is popular on the lakefront—maybe not enough to beat Emanuel along the coast, but certainly enough to considerably diminish his support.

In either case, both Gutierrez and Preckwinckle couldn’t run. Whomever takes on Emanuel needs a cleared field, and they need to start making their moves now.

What do you think of either Gutierrez or Preckwinckle to run against the mayor? Or do you have another candidate?

Follow Achy Obejas @achylandia.